Secondary school is a critical time for Canadian students as they must often make big decisions about the pathways they will take in the future. Students must consider and ultimately choose whether or not they will attend university, a community college, undertake an apprenticeship, take a gap year to travel, or enter the workforce full time. 

There are many students who have already made big decisions in grade 8, choosing to attend specialty or regional high school programs where they already start learning a trade, like mechanics or business. Some schools, for example, offer a truck and coach program, where students must apply beforehand to take a pathway of study that involves repairing complex vehicles. Other students may choose to take courses aligned with the International Baccalaureate program, while others choose arts schools where their creative talent can flourish. 

At some point, usually in grade 9 or 10 - depending on the province you live in - students must choose whether or not to take “academic” or “applied” streams of courses, including mathematics. Students that choose an academic pathway are typically planning to pursue studies in university. The choice students make can have a long lasting impact on their future learning and careers - so it’s important to get it right.

math grade 11 student
Choosing the right pathways in Secondary School is important. Source: Unsplash.
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What Do Canadians Think About Curriculum Streaming?

Parents and students, especially those new to learning in Canadian schools, can often find secondary school learning pathways confusing. They may not understand the difference between academic and applied courses, and the long term impacts course choice has on postsecondary learning. In many cases, they may not even understand how the curriculum varies from academic to applied, and simply regard all courses as credits that can be put toward a high school diploma.

Whatever your knowledge is of your province’s secondary curriculum, it’s important that families learn about how curriculum streaming works so they can make an informed decision about their kids’ learning.

Indeed, many education critics are skeptical of the practice of ‘streaming’, as it limits options to students, particularly those who are discriminated against systemically. Many students report feeling marginalized in applied courses, and can be placed in those courses without fully knowing how those courses will impact their learning trajectories in the long term.

There are also many students and parents that feel such decisions are impossible to make at such a young age, where kids are still developing cognitively and are likely distracted by the dozens of things that preoccupy teens. High school students in particular often mistakenly prioritize social lives, romantic relationships, or are simply not ready to think about what they want their lives to be like 5 years from now.

Whatever your thoughts are on the practice of streaming, it’s highly likely that you or your child will be faced with the decision of choosing between academic and applied course options. But what does it all mean? What are the impacts of choosing one over the other? What’s the main difference between the two?

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between academic and applied streams of study in math for secondary school. 

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing your math courses in secondary school. Pick the right pathway to keep your options open in the future.

What are Applied Math Courses?

Applied math courses cover the essential concepts, and focus on practical applications of mathematical reasoning and thinking. Students in applied math courses usually experience more hands-on approaches, and will learn skills that will help them at work and everyday life. Depending on the province you live in, you will get the option to choose between applied and academic math in either grade 9 or 10, and may be called “essential” or “workplace” mathematics.

Students that take applied math are not usually pursuing a postsecondary pathway where a theoretical understanding of math is required. For example, you can get into many arts programs in University like English, Dance, Visual Arts, History, Political Science, and Languages with an applied math credit. Applied math credits are also sufficient if you are applying for college or community college programs. If, however, you are looking to get into university programs like Engineering, Medicine, or Business - just to name a few - you may need to opt for an academic math program in high school.

There are some good reasons to take applied math in high school. You might be surprised!

It’s important to note that the applied math curriculum will vary from one province to another. In provinces like Ontario, applied math courses are not offered until after grade 9. Topics in applied math courses include:

  • Introductory Algebra
  • Proportional Reasoning
  • Measurement and Geometry
  • Quadratic Functions
  • Scale
  • Trigonometry
  • Operations
  • Financial Literacy
grade 12 math graduates
If you are planning to go to university after you graduate, you will want to take academic courses. Source: Unsplash.
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Priyal
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Alireza
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Shivani reddy
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Justin
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Stewart
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Stewart
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Laura
5
5 (47 reviews)
Laura
$40
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson is free!
Hamid
5
5 (76 reviews)
Hamid
$75
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson is free!
Priyal
4.9
4.9 (12 reviews)
Priyal
$25
/h
Gift icon
1st lesson is free!
Alireza
5
5 (20 reviews)
Alireza
$60
/h
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1st lesson is free!
Muhammad
5
5 (7 reviews)
Muhammad
$35
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1st lesson is free!
Shivani reddy
4.9
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Shivani reddy
$35
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1st lesson is free!
Justin
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What are Academic Math Courses?

In academic math courses, students will learn math through both theoretical and practical applications. Theory and abstract thinking are emphasized, and students are prepared for more rigorous study of math in postsecondary programs. Examples encountered will be complex, longer and conceptual. Students are encouraged to be independent and take an inquiry approach to problem solving. There is also much more use of academic writing and research, and students may be asked to share their work in formal situations.

As with applied math, academic math curricula will vary from one province to another. As you approach grades 11 and 12, the topics will become more specific and explicitly designed for learning in degree programs.

Topics you might in encounter in academic math courses include:

  • Functions (quadratic, exponential, discrete, trigonometric, logarithmic)
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Data Management
  • Logarithms
  • Calculus
  • Vectors
  • Derivatives
  • Algebra
  • Probability

Academic math has its pros and cons. Choosing academic math can lead to so many postsecondary programs and careers.

How Do I Know Which Courses to Take in Math Grade 11 or Grade 12 Math?

The math courses you choose will depend on a number of different factors. What are your long term goals? Will you need academic courses to get into the program you want in university? What is your history of math learning? Do you enjoy math, or do you dread taking it every year?

Applied courses are perfect if you want to build math skills for the future, but know that your future lies in an area of study where math is not required. You may not need academic math credits, for example, if you want to get into a program for the arts or literature, or certain college programs. You may want to start with applied, and transition into academic as an option - there are pathways available if you see yourself wanting to strengthen your foundation first.

The best person to ask would probably be your current math teacher or the guidance counsellor in your school. They can talk you through the options, and help you determine which courses you should take to have the pathways you want in the future. Set up a meeting with your family after school hours, or make an appointment during the school day.

Will Math Tutoring Help Me Succeed in Math?

A math tutor can be indispensable when taking math in secondary school, whether you are in applied or academic courses. In any math course, you will be learning important skills that support you throughout your entire life. Sites like Superprof.ca are the best place to find a math tutor and compare rates of math tutors all over your region.

In applied math courses, for example, you are still learning the foundations of math and will want someone to ensure you have the ability to apply mathematical concepts in work and everyday life. This can mean anything from creating a savings plan, to learning how to use a spreadsheet to track budgets or revenue. Math skills are also critical if you work in areas like construction or carpentry, and need to understand how to calculate measurements and design solutions.

Academic math students understand that the stakes are high: success and grades in these courses can make the difference between getting into the university of your dreams - or not. The math in these classes can be incredibly complex and fast paced, so you will want to feel supported in your learning. Furthermore, you will want to have a strong foundation of higher level math skills so you can transition with ease into your post secondary programs.

Math tutors from sites like Superprof are highly knowledgeable in academic and applied math curricula, and can work with you through whatever you are finding challenging in your classes or simply want more practice in. They can provide valuable feedback on you mathematical problem solving, remediate any math learning gaps that may have formed in previous years, and target your individual needs.

math tutoring
Whatever pathway you take in secondary school, a math tutor can help. Source: Pexels.

What Will the Right Math Helper or Math Tutor Do?

Superprof has many tutors that would seem to be great - so how do you pick the right one?

Obviously, the right tutor for you will be able to work within your budget and meet you at times convenient for you. That is likely the most important criteria to look for in a tutor! Superprof is great for comparing rates, as you can see exactly what each tutor will charge.

The right math helper will also have a strong understanding of the secondary course codes and curriculum in your province, so they know exactly what kind of learning you are doing in school. Typically, they would reside in your province and have experienced learning there as well. They will understand how the Canadian curriculum values math communication, and understand what kind of postsecondary or career pathway the course you are taking will be aligned with. You’ll be able to discover this information on the profiles of Superprof tutors, or simply send them a message and they can respond to your queries.

You will also want a tutor who will identify your needs and styles as a learner, and work with you at a pace you understand. They will know where to get the right examples and exercises for you to practice with, and check your knowledge to see that you have retained the learning. 

A tutor with a proven track record also helps - thanks to Superprof, you can see any reviews a tutor has posted on the site itself. In many cases, they will offer the first hour of tutoring for free, so you can have a chance to get to know them and see if they will be a good fit for you.

There’s a lot you should know about academic and applied math classes before choosing your courses in high school. Make an informed choice about the math classes you take!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.